Greetings, Favored One! 4th Advent
Romans 16:25-27 December 20, 2020 Luke 1:26-38
Don’t you just love Christmas Pageants?! Over the years, I have seen some doozeys! Like the year Joseph picked up the Baby Jesus and the doll’s head fell off and rolled across the floor—or like the year the innkeeper got all choked up and offered Mary and Joseph his own room, rather than sending them to a stable! But the one that came to mind this week depicted Gabriel arriving with his, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” and Mary then screamed and fainted! It was funny, but it DID convey the truth that having a heavenly messenger come to you might be a frightening thing indeed. Think about how you would respond to the news that GOD HAS CHOSEN YOU!
Our Gospel lesson this week tells this familiar story. Then Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives us a hint about the strength that comes from God—and about the importance of “the obedience of faith.” So, let’s see how these ideas carry through this familiar event in our annual preparations for Christmas.
Chosen by God
First, I would like to explore the idea of “being chosen by God.” I think about “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Tevya having his whimsical conversations with God. At one point he says, “I know we are the Chosen People. But, couldn’t you choose someone ELSE every now and then?!” He knew that the Jews had been chosen for a special responsibility. And in today’s Gospel, we hear that Mary has been chosen because the Lord found favor with her. Mary wondered what kind of greeting this might be (and wouldn’t we all?)
Being chosen for a special responsibility doesn’t sound as fun as being chosen just for my “specialness”—but God does choose us. God gives us tasks that appear to be impossible, and promises to be with us. Of course, you and I then choose to obey or to deny God’s invitation—the choice is up to us.
God, Give Me Strength!
I have very clear memories of pushing my mother to the brink of her patience. I knew she was at the end of her rope when I could hear her mutter, “God, give me strength!” It turns out that she was praying for the strength to be patient with her irritating child, praying for the ability to do what was right, praying for guidance through a difficult time. Perhaps she was thinking about the promise we heard in Romans 16, when Paul expresses praise for God, “Who is able to strengthen you.” You see, God chooses to work through people. God chooses folks, then God guides and strengthens those whom God has called! So, my mother’s prayer is a good one for all of us (God, give me strength). When others frustrate us: “God, give me strength.” When we catch ourselves headed in the wrong direction: “God, give me strength.” When circumstances beyond our control seem to gang up on us: “God, give us strength.” And when, like Mary, we sense God’s call to do something that appears to be beyond our power: “God, give me strength.” Strength to bring about the obedience of faith.
The Strength to Obey
I am reminded of Isaiah’s experience (recorded in Isaiah 6:5-8) when he saw the Lord in the Temple. His first thought was, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
In the text, one of the seraphs flew to him with a live coal and touched his mouth, indicating his forgiveness. And the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me!” God gave him the faith to obey.
The same is true when Mary heard the frightening news from the angel. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
In order to understand the boldness of her words, we need to know something of the punishment she risked for being pregnant but not yet married. She could have been dragged outside the village and stoned. At the very least, this could have torpedoed her relationship with Joseph. To say nothing of the fearsome task of being the mother of the Messiah! She would be responsible for his care, his nurture, his faith development. Daunting!
I am glad that this text also shows us that it is okay to question God. Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She shows us that 1. God gives us brains, 2. God created us to be curious, and 3. It is wise to challenge what we are told in the name of God. But once we are convinced of God’s will, God then gives us the ability to obey. (It’s based, in part, on the faithfulness of God that we have already experienced, the trustworthiness of God’s leading.)
We may not understand completely, but we say, “I’m your servant, God. I trust You to make things work out according to your will.” And God will give us strength.
To finish today, I’d like to fast-forward to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is praying. He has stirred up the people with his ministry of teaching and healing. He has challenged the accepted authority, and has thereby stirred up powerful people against himself. It’s not hard to imagine the consequences. Jesus prays, “If it is possible, please let this cup pass from me.” (In other words, “Is there any other way to accomplish this mission?”) But he concludes his prayer with, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
Friends, this is why we have Christmas, the Birthday of the Savior. You see, when the Moment of Truth came, Jesus faced his coming death and was empowered to be obedient. Without that obedience, we would have no Savior, no Redemption, and no reason for Christmas. You and I are here today because a very young woman said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me according to your word.”
Prayer: God, when we listen, we hear your message, your call. But it’s often frightening. Help us to let go of our fears and hold on to your trustworthy love. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.